Right Web

Tracking militarists’ efforts to influence U.S. foreign policy

Israel Unlikely to Stay on Syrian Sidelines for Much Longer

LobeLog

All eyes are on US President Barack Obama as he contemplates how to dealwith the fact that the Syrian government might have crossed a red line he never should have drawn. The Israelis, even while abstaining from pressuring Obama to act in Syria, meanwhile know their own decisions are no less troublesome.

Obama dug himself a hole when he declared that Syria’s use of chemical weapons would be a casus belli. Now that it appears that Sarin gas was used in Syria (although such use is certainly not as destructive as some of the “conventional” bombardment that has been employed), Obama is in a quandary. There is no more or less of a reason to significantly increase the US’ involvement in Syria than there was before, but the forces that have been calling for intervention have an enormous new chip to play.

This might be comforting to Israel, because they have to be very concerned about what is happening in Syria right now, and that concern is not based on whether or not Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces used sarin gas. The Syria situation is everything the issue with Iran is not.

Iran represents a potential threat to Israel’s position as a nuclear hegemon and to the whole US-Israel-Saudi matrix of power in the region. But despite the hysteria, those in charge in Israel know very well that Iran has not yet made the decision to construct a nuclear weapon and that, even if they got one, the situation would be one of a nuclear standoff, not an imminent Iranian attack on Israel.

Public rhetoric reflects something different, but no one in the halls of the Israeli Knesset or in Washington thinks Iran will simply decide to push the nuclear button. That reality is precisely why it was so important for AIPAC and other anti-Iran forces to eliminate a containment strategy early on; they knew it was by far the most sensible policy in terms of avoiding war, but would weaken the regional position of the US, Israel, Saudi Arabia and its Gulf compatriots.

Syria is, from the Israeli point of view, a completely different matter. The chemical and biological weapons stockpiles are surely a real concern, but the issue is much wider than that.

While Israelis view Assad as an enemy, they’re well aware that their border with Syria has been basically quiet for forty years. Assad kept things stable while supporting Hezbollah’s activities in Southern Lebanon. Now that situation will likely drastically change.

It remains possible that Assad will prevail, but even if he does, the status quo ante is lost forever. It is very difficult to predict what an Assad regime will look like if he does win. One thing we know is that after all the anti-Assad rhetoric and repeated calls for him to step down, the international community will not be able to simply accept his victory. So Syria will be isolated, at least for a while, even from the rest of the Arab League. How does that affect Syria’s behavior vis-a-vis Israel, Hezbollah, Jordan, Turkey and Iran? Much will depend on the circumstances of any Assad victory, but in any case, it’s currently unpredictable.

The far more likely scenario, though, is that Assad will eventually be toppled and the various opposition groups will begin vying for power. That contest will undoubtedly prolong the extreme violence in Syria, but it will also be a battle for the hearts and minds of the Syrian people. That could well mean engaging Israel directly or by increasing support for Hezbollah. Do we really expect that Israel will just sit back and wait to see what will happen?

The fighting groups in Syria are certainly not all Salafist, al-Qaeda-type groups. But that does describe a number of them, and others are highly sectarian. Various groups are being backed by competing outside powers, including Qatar, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, with the US and its allies being a peripheral player even among those who are involving themselves from a distance. Iran and Hezbollah have also been working to support groups friendly to them so that they will continue to have an influential presence in the event Assad falls.

Now things get even more complicated. Israel had wisely avoidedpushing the US toward intervention, until they announced their finding of the use of chemical weapons, which was likely a way to try to get the US to carry out or go along with an Israeli operation specifically targeting such weapons. Israel is really not anxious to see the US get more involved in Syria, another striking contrast with the Iran situation. It may turn out that US involvement is the best of a host of unpalatable options, but Israel is well aware that escalation in Syria is not in its interest.

The problem is that Hezbollah yesterday raised the possibilityof their own direct intervention. A long-term Hezbollah presence in Syria is not likely something that Israel will sit still for. Tensions are flaring on the Israel-Lebanese border, not to mention the ongoing pressure cooker within Lebanon itself, which has been turned up much higher because of the Syrian civil war.

It is impossible to conceive of Israel sitting by quietly if Hezbollah becomes an active participant in Syria. That impossibility stems from the concern Israel has held from the day the armed conflict began, namely that Hezbollah would have access to Syrian weapons, chemical and conventional. Moreover, Israel would be quite concerned that Hezbollah would then have an established fighting presence on both the Lebanese and Syrian borders.

At this stage, there is no reason to believe that Hezbollah Secretary-General Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah’s implication that direct intervention in Syria is on the table is anything more than bluster. Still, it cannot be dismissed. With each day, the likelihood of Assad holding on to power becomes dimmer and dimmer, and just from the sheer numbers, the greatest possibility by far is that a subsequent Syrian regime, or even a conglomeration of mini-states, is not going to be friendly to the Shi’ite militia/party. That’s why Iran continues to back Assad, and Hezbollah has a compelling reason to involve itself more directly in Syria: to bolster the minority forces that might be aligned with them in a post-Assad Syria.

With or without US involvement, these concerns are going to be present for Israel. The Israelis are not totally blind to the ramifications of taking action on their own, of course. But even though rumors of a recent Israeli strike on a chemical weapons depot in Syria appear unfounded, the dual concerns of chemical weapons falling into hands more likely to use them against Israel than Assad, and of a new regime with Salafist or similar tendencies taking power in Syria, are going to compel dramatic Israeli action sooner or later.

Though the Israeli-Syrian border has been quiet for decades, Israel is mindful of the role the pre-Assad Syrian state played in the run-up to the 1967 war. The early Ba’athist regime was more aggressive, consistently engaging Israel and causing then Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser to take many of the steps that eventually led to Israel launching the war, steps that he vainly hoped would mollify Syria and convince them to let Nasser handle the confrontation with Israel.

The Assad regime, both father and son, avoided such actions. A new Syrian regime may well embrace them, and given the widespread changes in the region, that prospect is sure to make Israel extremely anxious. Of course, an agreement with the Palestinians would go a long way toward blunting that threat, but that’s nothing but a pipe dream at this point.

Ultimately, the fact that the Israelis believe they have real and immediate reasons to act in Syria (unlike with Iran) — even if they’re reluctant to do so — might be the factor that eventually pushes the US and/or Europe to intervene. Unfortunately, that doesn’t make intervention any wiser or more likely to bring about positive results.

Share RightWeb

Featured Profiles

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), one of the more effective U.S. lobbying outfits, aims to ensure that the United States backs Israel regardless of the policies Israel pursues.


Donald Trump’s second attorney general, William Barr is the focus of a growing controversy over the Robert Mueller report because his decision to unilaterally declare that the the president had not obstructed justice during the Mueller investigation.


Gina Haspel is the first woman to hold the position of director of the CIA, winning her confirmation despite her history of involvement in torture during the Iraq War.


United against Nuclear Iran is a pressure group that attacks companies doing business in Iran and disseminates alarmist reports about the country’s nuclear program.


Jared Kushner, Donald Trump’s son-in-law, is the president’s senior adviser, whose dealings with the Persian Gulf leaders have come under scrutiny for conflicts of interest.


Erik Prince, former CEO of the mercenary group Blackwater, continues to sell security services around the world as controversies over his work—including in China and the Middle East, and his alleged involvement in collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia—grow.


Robert Joseph played a key role in manipulating U.S. intelligence to support the invasion of Iraq and today is a lobbyist for the MEK.


For media inquiries,
email rightwebproject@gmail.com

From the Wires

President Trump’s announcement that he would recognise Israeli sovereignty over the western part of the Golan Heights destroys the negotiating basis for any future peace between Israel and Syria. It also lays the groundwork for a return to a world without territorial integrity for smaller, weaker countries.


The Senate on Wednesday passed a measure mandating the withdrawal of U.S. forces from the Saudi/UAE-led war against Houthi rebels in Yemen. The vote marks the first time since the War Powers Act of 1973 became law that both chambers of Congress have directed the president to withdraw American forces from a conflict.


The Trump administration’s failed “maximum pressure” approach to Iran and North Korea begs the question what the US president’s true objectives are and what options he is left with should the policy ultimately fail.


In the United States, it’s possible to debate any and every policy, domestic and foreign, except for unquestioning support for Israel. That, apparently, is Ilhan Omar’s chief sin.


While Michael Cohen mesmerized the House of Representatives and President Trump resumed his love affair with North Korea’s Kim Jong, one of the most dangerous state-to-state confrontations, centering in Kashmir, began to spiral out of control.


The Trump administration’s irresponsible withdrawal from the landmark Iran nuclear agreement undermined Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and emboldened hardliners who accused him of having been deceived by Washington while negotiating the agreement. However, the Iranian government could use the shock of Zarif’s resignation to push back against hardliners and take charge of both the domestic and foreign affairs of the country while Iran’s foreign opponents should consider the risks of destabilizing the government under the current critical situation.


Europe can play an important role in rebuilding confidence in the non-proliferation regime in the wake of the demise of the INF treaty, including by making it clear to the Trump administration that it wants the United States to refrain from deploying INF-banned missiles in Europe and to consider a NATO-Russian joint declaration on non-first deployment.


RightWeb
share